Remembering Mets History (1973): Opening Day of the Mets N.L. Championship Season

 

Friday April 6th, 1973: The Mets opened up the 1973 season with plenty of optimism, it had just been four years ago that they the Amazing Mets won the World Series in 1969. Once again, the pitching staff was the team's strength. They had solid defense, especially behind the plate & in the middle infield. Plus they had some new additions to the roster for improvement.

That off season the Mets traded away starting pitcher Gary Genrty & reliever Danny Frisella to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for second baseman Felix Millan & pitcher George Stone. Millan was a fine defensive second baseman who solidified the defense up the middle along with short stop Bud Harrelson, one of the best in the game. George Stone would go 12-3 with a save & a 2.80 ERA in 27 appearances. 

The Mets also had a healthy Rusty Staub who had arrived prior to the 1972 season but a hand injury after getting hit by a pitch from George Stone, when he was with the Braves, had him miss 96 games. Staub was arguably the Mets best hitter.

There was hope Jim Freogsi would bounce back from his poor 1972 season but he would be gone by the summer.

The 1972 Mets had finished third winning 83 games (83-73) it was an emotional year after the
sudden passing of Gil Hodges at the end of Spring Training. Yogi Berra was now in his second year as manager as well.

Opening Day 1973 brought a crowd of 27, 326 to Shea Stadium, on a Friday afternoon as the Mets
hosted the Philadelphia Phillies. Two future Hall of Fame pitchers went against each other that day, as they did so many times in the early to mid-seventies. The Mets sent Tom Seaver to the mound & Phil's manager Danny Ozark sent "Lefty" Steve Carlton to face the Mets.

Carlton was coming off his incredible 1972 Cy Young season where he was 27-10 with 310 strike outs & a 1.97 ERA. That year the dreadful Phillies won just 59 games.


Tom Seaver & Steve Carlton matched zeroes, holding their opponents scoreless through the first three innings. In the bottom of the 4th inning, Felix Millan led off with a double. Then Willie Mays & Rusty Staub were both retired. With two outs Cleon Jones gave the crowd a thrill as he blasted a HR over the left field fence to put New York up 2-0.

The score stayed that way until the bottom of the 7th inning, when Jones led off the inning & connected one again off Carlton with his second HR of the day. The solo shot gave the Mets all they would need for the 3-0 victory.

Tom Seaver cruised along allowing just four hits into the top of the 8th inning, striking out eight batters along the way, while walking just two. 

In the 8th he allowed a pinch hit double to (future Mets 1986 coach) Bill Robinson & then a walk to Del Unser.

Mets Manager Yogi Berra went to the bullpen, calling on his reliever Tug McGraw. McGraw got Phillies pinch hitter Deron Johnson to fly out to end the 8th. 

McGraw then retired the Phillies in order in the 9th inning, to complete the shut out while earning his first save of the year. He would save 25 games on the year & become one of the league's top relief pitchers. The animated McGraw would become very popular & be one of the games early recognized relief pitching stars. Back in the day they were called "firemen" now known as closers.

The Mets only had five hits on the day, with Cleon Jones gathering up three of them. Felix Millan & Jim Fregosi also had hits. 

In contrast to today's long-drawn-out games, the 1973 opening day contest only took one hour & fifty-six minutes to play.

Trivia: 1973 would be the final season Rheingold beer would sponsor the Mets.

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